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A new team on defence

Obama nominated on Monday General Martin Dempsey (centre) to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [AFP]By Camille Elhassani 

Over the course of the next few months, Barack Obama will have replaced much of the defence leadership of the US in anticipation of watershed changes to defence policy.

On Monday, the US president announced the latest in a series of appointments: army General Martin Dempsey as his pick to be the nation's highest ranking military officer - chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the announcement, Obama alluded to Dempsey's qualifications and the need for his skills. "Just as he challenged the army to embrace new doctrine and tactics, I expect him to push all our forces to continue adapting and innovating to be ready for the missions of today and tomorrow," Obama said.

If confirmed by the US senate, Dempsey will be responsible for a daunting list of tasks - the promised drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq this year, cuts to defence spending to reflect a more modern military, and the implementation of the new policy allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

The changes to Obama's defence team aren’t a purge. Current secretary of defence Robert Gates has long said he wanted to retire.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen's tenure ends in a few months. General David Petraeus, who commands US forces in Afghanistan, has been nominated to become the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Between retirements and musical chairs, five vacancies appeared at the top of the defence team, and Obama is selecting his new team with an eye to restructuring a modern military.

The current chairman of the JCS, Mullen, has alluded to the changes taking place, like a reduced deployment in the Middle East and the evolution of a smaller military.

Last week speaking to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Mullen said the national debt is of paramount concern to him. "I really do believe it is the greatest threat to our national security and will drive ... tough decisions about what kind of military we build," he said.

During Dempsey's recent confirmation hearings for his current job, chief of staff for the army, he revealed how he views restructuring and military procurement in the future/

"Some of the programmes that we aspire to fail because of the time horizon we establish for them. If we try to project our needs 10 to 15 years in the future, it's almost certain we won't get it right," he said.

The 59-year old has been in the military for 36 years holding varying positions: he taught English at West Point Military Academy, commanded the 1st Armoured Division into Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and temporarily led the US Central Command.

He's known by those who serve under him as being both competent and likeable.

If confirmed, Dempsey would start as the president's top military adviser in October.

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